The Week/the Spin

Endgame Over

Kosovo update: Serbia approved a peace deal proposed by the European Union and Russia. The plan mandates a withdrawal of all Serb troops from Kosovo, to be followed by a halt in NATO bombing and the return of the dispossessed Kosovars under the supervision of a unified, allied-led peacekeeping force. The Kosovo Liberation Army will be “demilitarized,” and Kosovo will eventually become autonomous but not independent. Click here to read the text of the agreement. NATO’s taciturn official reaction: Bombing won’t stop until the Yugoslavs actually withdraw. NATO’s jubilant unofficial reaction: Victory is ours. The consensus political spin from newspapers both foreign and domestic: Milosevic’s capitulation vindicates President Clinton’s bombing-only strategy. The counterspins to all the huzzahs: 1) The KLA will never agree to its own emasculation or abandon its goal of Kosovar independence. 2) By bowing out now, Milosevic will retain his hold on power.

China suppressed commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising. The police arrested dissidents, disbanded a public memorial service, and excised all mention of the anniversary from the media. The Chinese spin: President Jiang Zemin made no mention of the date’s significance but stressed the importance of “stability above all else.” To survey the current American spins on China, see this week’s “Strange Bedfellow” column by David Plotz.

Japan legalized the Pill. Health officials approved birth control pills after several decades of debate. Women’s groups asked why it has taken so long. Answer 1: The Japanese government is hostile to women’s concerns. Answer 2: The Japanese government is hostile to foreign medicines in general, even Tylenol isn’t on the market yet. Answer 3: Then why was Viagra legalized after only six months?

NBA playoffs news: New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing will miss the rest of the NBA playoffs because of a torn Achilles’ tendon. The Knicks and the Indiana Pacers have split the first two games of their NBA semifinals series. The injury deprives Ewing of his last best chance to play for the NBA championship, which he has never won during his 14-year career. The sentimental spin: The Knicks can’t afford to lose Ewing’s fire and courage. (He’s been playing hurt for months.) The realistic spin: The Knicks are younger, faster, and better without him. The cynical spin: This is the first interesting story of the playoffs.

South Africa held its second free elections. The unsurprising news: The African National Congress will win handily and will appoint Thabo Mbeki, the current deputy president and Nelson Mandela’s successor-designate, to the presidency. The more surprising news: The election was free of the racial violence that accompanied the first all-race elections in 1994. Read the Washington Post’s two-part overview of the new South Africa here.

The Federal government will investigate the marketing of violent entertainment to children. President Clinton said the study will explore whether or not media companies intentionally lure young customers with violent imagery. Why the study won’t be useful: The First Amendment protects marketers from being legally forced to tone down their pitches. Why the study will be useful: It will give Al Gore a reply to Republican accusations that the administration is soft on Hollywood.

Merrill Lynch will introduce an online discount trading operation. Traditional trades through Merrill currently cost up to hundreds of dollars; the online fee will be $29.95. Previously, the brokerage house had loudly vowed to stay off-line and boasted that its customers would cough up fat commissions in exchange for handholding and top-flight financial analysis. Spin 1) Merrill’s move proves that the Internet is transforming Wall Street. Spin 2) Merrill’s late arrival proves how slowly the Internet is transforming Wall Street. Spin 3) By the time the operation is up in December, Merrill will already have lost out to scrappier, more nimble competitors. Spin 4) Merrill has already lost out to scrappier, more nimble competitors. Spin 5) Merrill’s brokers will revolt at the prospect of reduced commissions.

Hackers hijacked several government Web sites–including those of the Senate, White House, and FBI–freezing or replacing official content. (Click here to see the hackers’ mischief posted on the Senate home page.) Reportedly, the vandalism was in retaliation for FBI raids on suspected hackers. The hacker community’s reaction to the press: vigorous denial of wrongdoing. The reaction within hacking circles: vigorous jockeying for credit.

Russia will abandon its Mir space station because the Russian space program is broke. Set on cruise control, Mir will eventually burn up on re-entry. The Russian reaction: dejection and wounded pride. NASA’s reaction: relief that Mir won’t drain financing from the international space station, along with the usual orbital traffic worries about a large abandoned satellite.